Euro 2016 round up: France 2 Albania 0 - and what the result means

French forward Dimitri Payet, who scored the second goal against Albania, applauding fans during the match.
French forward Dimitri Payet, who scored the second goal against Albania, applauding fans during the match.PHOTO: AFP

Les Bleus are deep Blues. France manager Didier Deschamps tinkered with a winning XI and got another victory as the hosts became the first team to qualify for the knockout stages.

Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann - poster boys for Euro 2016 - started on the bench at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille. But how France needed them ultimately.

Forward Griezmann answered a nation's call when he broke the deadlock by heading Adil Rami's cross into the corner in the 90th minute.

Up till then, Albania had defended stoically. They pressed the ball, harried and hustled.

 

Their organisation prompted Deschamps to abandon his 4-2-3-1 experiment. Anthony Martial and Kingsley Coman, who replaced Pogba and Griezmann in the starting XI, were hauled off. They were supposed to provide width, it never came.

France's full-backs, Patrice Evra in particular, provided the width in the second half. But it was another defender, Rami, whose first ever cross in a French shirt was the most telling.

With Albania chasing an equaliser in added time, France hit on the counter. Dimitri Payet, who spent two years at Marseille, scored another emotional goal to seal the win.

It was his 89th-minute stunner that won it for France against Romania. Payet and Les Bleus left it late again on Wednesday. The French have a phrase for it - it is called deja vu.

Match highlights

- Olivier Giroud headed Payet's free-kick over the bar from six yards out.

- Payet sent Martial through in the 21st minute. But his shock was blocked by Arlind Ajeti.

- Four minutes later, Ermir Lenjani's crossfield pass found Andi Lila. The midfielder got past Evra and delivered a cross into the box. Striker Armando Sadiku's outstretched leg just could not connect with theball, and Hugo Lloris collected.

- An unmarked Lenjani races onto Lila's 39th-minute corner - a low ball into the middle. He failed to get a proper connection and Evra deflected his shot for a corner, which came to nothing.

- Right from the restart, Giroud crossed, Blaise Matuidi flicked the ball on and Coman headed wide.

- In the 53rd minute, Albania are denied by the woodwork. Ledian Memushaj's effort hit the bottom of the frame, rebounded to him, but he was off-balance and the ball went wide.

- Three minutes later, Pogba blasted over in the box following a cross from Payet.

- N'Golo Kante won the ball back for France in the 67th minute and released Evra on the left flank. His cross was headed wide by Giroud.

- Two minutes later, Giroud got a bit closer. He met another cross by Evra. This time, he struck the post.

- In the 90th minute, defender Rami's cross is flicked into the corner of the net by Griezmann.

- Pogba led a counter-attacking move, finding substitute Andre-Pierre Christian Gignac with a long pass. Payet picked the ball up on the left flank, cut inside, and curled home from inside the box.

The talking point

Is this title-winning form? The adage is that champions eek out victories - they win when they are not at their best. Yet there should be enough worrying signs for France.

This, after all, was a meeting between the tournament's biggest favourites and the biggest underdogs. France hardly created any clear-cut chances against the debutants in the opening half. When those came in the second half, they showed no composure in front of goal until Griezmann coolly placed the ball into the net.

France had a total of 22 shot attempts on the night and scored with their only two efforts on target. No team in Euro 2016 had to wait for 90 minutes before registering a shot on target, although Sweden did not even manage that.

Man of the Match

Payet. Deschamps starting formation showed how much faith he had in the West Ham playmaker. It was a team built around the No. 10. But even when he was moved wide, he remained a threat. He created enough chances with his dead-ball delivery alone to win the game. But with most misfiring, he took it upon himself to get on the scoresheet.

What the result means

France can secure top spot in Group A with a draw against Switzerland, and that is key to a deep run in a tournament they have aspirations to win.

The prize for finishing first is a third-placed team from either Group C, D, or E. It also puts them in a section of the draw where they will be certain to face a runner-up (from either Group B or F) in the quarter-finals, as opposed to a fellow group winner.

The Group A runners-up, on the other hand, will take on the second-placed team in Group C. That, as things stand, represents Robert Lewandowski and Poland - the top scoring individual and team in qualifying.

Key statistic

This is the third time France have won their opening two games at the European Championships. The other two times, France went on to become champions.

What they said

Payet: "What's great is this, the late goals, is nothing new. Since March, against the Netherlands, we've shown that we can go out and win the games late on. We had to be patient."